Archive for June, 2009

Possessed

This weekend I read Possessionby A.S. Byatt.  It’s been a few months since I’ve really sat down to read a novel (I read poetry and nonfiction all the time), and I enjoyed Byatt’s work.  Possession is a novel that takes the reader into the world of two scholars who are researching the “forbidden” romance between two (fictional) Victorian writers.  Because there are days I believe that I really belong in the world of 19th century literature (I finished Drood by Dan Simmons a few months ago and loved it!), I appreciated the way Byatt intertwined journal entries, letters, and contemporary settings together to tell a story.  When I googled the book’s title, I found that not everybody appreciated this story — several readers found the book “boring” and “tiresome.”  I do wonder if I liked the book because of the way it shows how academic scholars investigate the world of past literature.   I also wonder if the novel was based on characters that may have been real.  Everywhere I looked, the summaries of the book emphasized that the two Victorian writers are fictional, but still….

Oh!  And there’s a movie.  Starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart.  I’ll have to see if I can pick that up somewhere….

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Book Review Blues

I just read Matthew Thorburn’s post on book reviews, and I can relate to so many points he has mentioned, especially the allure of free poetry books!  I am relatively new to the world of writing book reviews.  I started simply because I wanted to be a bigger part of the poetry world and to be honest, I’m a great reader and a pretty good writer, so I thought I could contribute by writing poetry book reviews.  And last year, I did pretty well.  But this year, I am behind, and I’m not sure why. 

Well….actually I know one good reason.  I am now tackling many collections where the form and style of the poems included are not familiar to me.   Let me make this clearer.  In the past, I’ve written book reviews where I could put the poems in some kind of context.  For example, if I reviewed a book that contained a lot of poems about nature, then I could talk about that book in the context of other poets who use nature images as central motifs and metaphors in their work.  Or, if I reviewed a newest collection of a poet whose work I already knew, then I could talk about that newest book in the context of what the poet had already published.  

But now, I have a pile of books by my computer where most of the work is really new to me.  New styles, new themes, new poets. No contexts.  So the reviews I am writing are coming out like awful five-paragraph theme papers.  Yuck. 

But it’s back to work.  No matter what I say, those reviews are not going to get written when I am busy writing on my blog.

Note to Self

Why, oh, why do I go into a bookstore with money in my purse?  And why, oh, why do I go when there is a really good sale?  And finally, why did I enter said bookstore thinking I was going to buy only ONE book? 

Note to self:  If I am truly on a budget, no bookstores! However, I am making myself feel better by saying I’m helping the economy.

Passings

With the news about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, I feel that part of my childhood has been lost.  That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. Whether or not you liked Michael Jackson and whether or not you followed all the public fallout in his later life, you can’t deny his influence on the MTV Generation.  No, I never danced around with one white glove — but I had friends who begged their mothers for red leather jackets.  Plus, Thriller scared the heck out of me.

As for Farrah Fawcett, who didn’t want to be one of Charlie’s Angels?  At least for a little while?  It’s true that recently Farrah Fawcett was in the spotlight for her brave fight against cancer, but I want to remember her as all blond hair and perfect health.  And beautiful.

RIP Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson

A New Holden Caulfield

I just got done reading an article about the lack of appeal of the once famous character Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, (Thanks Brandi for the link!) and I have to say that I am in total agreement with what the teachers have to say about Salinger’s “classic” novel.  The Catcher in the Rye is required reading in many of the local high schools, and many of my students absolutely hate the book and its “whiny” hero (I think in literary circles, Holden Caulfield is considered an antihero).   Many people dismiss their complaints about the book by saying, “Kids don’t read today — that’s the problem.”  I believe that’s an argument for another post, but I have to say that while I liked The Catcher in the Rye, I too, had little in common with the disillusioned Holden Caulfield.  This is not to say that I didn’t like the book — I did.  But I never really understood the “big deal” about the work.   While Catcher was required reading in high school (I think I read the book when I was in 9th grade), many of us were busy reading the books by S.E. Hinton.  I can’t tell you how many times I read The Outsiders, and I still have the VHS movie for sentimental reasons (my mother got it for me as a birthday gift).  Even though I grew up in a factory town in rural PA, and didn’t have much in common with the gangs found in The Outsiders, I have to say that it was much easier to relate to Ponyboy Curtis than it ever was to relate to Holden Caulfield. 

With this in mind, I am wondering if there is still room in today’s world for literary heroes.  Would Harry Potter be a great literary hero?  Or the characters in the Twilight series? (That makes me shudder — but I will stop being judgemental; at least my students are reading!) Why are today’s readers seemingly more interested in fantasy worlds?  Or, is there another literary hero or heroine out there I am missing?

Summer Reading List, Part II

The first day of summer is this weekend  — how far are you with your summer reading?  I have to admit that I have squeezed a lot of reading in between conferences and roadtrips and get -togethers and my own writing.  So for those of you who are running out of reading ideas, here are five more titles that may be interesting:

  1. Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
  2. Blue Collar Eulogies by Michael Meyerhofer
  3. The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks by Stephen Haven
  4. Nevertheless, Hello by Christopher Goodrich
  5. Trouble Light by Gerald McCarthy

If you missed the first list I posted, click here.  Happy Reading!

For a Good Cause or Two…

Weave Magazine is holding a subscription drive this month and they are halfway to their goal — consider helping them out.  Stop by their site and buy a year’s subscription to read great work by a variety of writers including Mary Biddinger, Brent Fisk, Rachel Mallino, Frank DePoole, Mary Alexandra Agner, and others (include two of my own poems in the newest issue!) 

And….

Do you need a reader for some new summer poems?  Are you new to creative nonfiction and need some feedback on some of your work?  Do you have a short story you have been trying to revise but just can’t get a certain scene or character right?  Then, DZANC Books may have a solution (or at least a step in the right direction).  DZANC Books has just started a new program titled the DZANC Creative Writing Sessions which is an online program that allows writers to work with published authors for one-on-one feedback.  Session prices vary (but all are very reasonable).  And the really great news?  The authors in this program are donating 100 percent of their time, for the money goes toward the writing programs that DZANC runs for students in grades 4 – 12.  According to the DZANC’s website, “These additional programs – currently being run nationally by Dzanc – are offered free of charge to students who would not otherwise be able to afford and experience the sort of writing programs Dzanc offers.”  You should check it out!  I can speak from experience.  I just did a two hour session with one of the poets and I got very valuable feedback.  It’s a win-win situation — you get feedback for your work and you donate money for a great cause.

We all know that times are tough right now — but never forget to support the literary arts when you can!

Cigarette Break

I’m an ex-smoker.  I haven’t touched a cigarette in over 12 years.  And no, working on my manuscript isn’t that stressful — I don’t want to pick up the habit again.  But tonight, I found that the image of cigarettes, in some form or another, is showing up over and over in my poetry.  I’m working on a batch of revisions — and I’m seeing cigarettes again and again.  Sometimes, it’s in a cough, sometimes it’s in smoke, sometimes it’s in a pack of Camels.  I guess I won’t have to do a world cloud to find my most prominent image in my manuscript! 

Dazzled

This weekend I finished Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, a full-length collection of poetry that depicts and explores the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  Readers of this blog will already know that I named Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods by Paula Bohince as my favorite poetry book published in 2008.  However, I must say that if I had read Blood Dazzler last year (the book was also published in 2008), Smith’s collection would have given Bayonet Woods  a run for its money (to use the horrible cliche).  Using different styles of poetry, Blood Dazzler follows the Katrina catastrophe through many different voices.   A reader of this collection will find poems written from different points of view, ranging from voices of the survivors of the disaster, to Hurricane Betsy (a hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast in 1965), to President Bush (don’t worry, the poet is not especially kind to him) to Hurricane Katrina herself.  (herself — in spite of the name, can I give a hurricane gender?)  The result is a stunning collection.

A few months ago, I read Katie Cappello’s first book of poems titled Perpetual Care.  I really enjoyed this collection as well — especially the last section of the book that is dedicated to a series of laments for the city of New Orleans after Katrina.

I have been working on a more formal review of Perpetual Care — but I was sidetracked by Blood Dazzler.  Not because I think one book is better than the other, but because I am amazed about how different two books of poetry can be — even when the two books have focused on the same event.  Can anyone tell me — are there more full length collections of poetry about Hurricane Katrina?  Let me know!!!

Library Booksale Frenzy

I grew up in a small town, and have spent most of my life in small towns — most below the population of 4,000 people.  I now live in a “city” of about 29,000 people which is by no means big — but is considered a “a small city” by the state of New York.  What I find interesting is that no matter where I have lived, all these places have a summer tradition that is rarely talked about: the library booksale.

When I was 19, I had a summer job working at my home town’s library.  A dream job, to be sure, I loved the work.  One of my jobs was to help organize and run the annual library booksale.  It was such a huge event that people talked about it for months ahead of time.  And then, the morning of the event, people would line up hours before we opened the doors — just so they could buy the teenage Harlequin Romances at 10 cents a pop, or find a “rare” Stephen King hardback for fifty cents, or (gasp! What a bargain!) buy five volumes of Readers Digest Condensed Books for one dollar!  And sometimes, the customers would get vicious.  I swear one time two little old ladies attacked each other because one “stole” the other’s rare find of a battered Victoria Holt novel!

When I moved to Jamestown, I was pleased (and somewhat shocked — I was beginning to think that people were losing interest in reading) to see the same lines of people, the same piles of books being dragged out the front doors, and I swear, the same little old ladies fighting over paperbacks at their annual library sale.  Jamestown’s sale is huge — with thousands of books.  I always wait until the initial crowd is through before I venture into the musty paradise of used books.   Most of the time, I pick up novels or nature books.  There’s not much in the poetry section, usually just tattered copies of Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman.   Still, I can always find some kind of treasure.

So, what did I come home with this year?  Well, a few novels, a book or two about nature, a few hardbacks about baseball history (for Anthony — he’s the sports fan), and a history book or two.  The real find?  Poet Kate Daniels’  The Niobe Poems, a collection she published after her first book The White Wave.  Kate Daniels was one of the first contemporary poets who inspired me to write, but I have never been able to get a hold of The Niobe Poems.  But there it was — squeezed between a ripped collection of Best Loved Poems (by whom, I’m not sure) and an old Norton collection of English Verse.  To my knowledge, The Niobe Poems has been out of print for some time, so I’m excited to add this book to my summer reading list.

I love library sales.  Loved them when I was a teen, continue to love them.  They are a great benefit to the community.  Beyond the rows and rows of romances (not my cup of tea reading, but they sell well), it’s great to see teens pawing through the classics and elderly men lugging history books.  And I can always find a little kid who has wandered off to read a Little House on a Prairie book or a Nancy Drew mystery.   Besides, where else can you pick up a book about alien abductions or the conspiracies of the US Government without anyone batting an eyelash at your purchases!

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